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Health Tips & Advice

In Praise of Gardening

By Dr. Jack Muskat, Olivia Cupido, and Kurt Morrison

Planting flowers or culling weeds doesn’t just boost your curb appeal—it’s also good for the mind, body and soul.

As temperatures rise, many homeowners turn their attention to the great outdoors—specifically, their lawn, vegetable gardens and flower beds. While gardening may not be your preferred choice of pastime, research shows that it may be one of the best rituals tied to overall wellness.

Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones, is an enthusiastic advocate for weeding, digging and lifting that’s characteristic of tending to plants. Buettner is famous for his evaluation of places where people live longest, and healthiest—Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece and the Japanese island of Okinawa.

Buettner says gardening is conducted almost universally among the aged in regions around the world where people live longest. “ all Blue Zones, people continue to garden even into their 90s and 100s,” he said in an online class hosted by the Global Wellness Institute. At Medcan, we’re enthusiastic about gardening because it promotes each of Medcan’s three healthy-living pillars: eat, move and think.

Eat Well with Food You Grow Yourself

First, and most obviously, people who dine on vegetables they’ve raised in their own gardens are more likely to follow a healthy eating pattern. They’re choosing which fertilizers to use on their plants, and decide themselves whether to use pesticides, making garden-grown vegetables much more likely to qualify as organic. As one fascinating study on children who grow their own vegetables suggested, investing time and energy into tomatoes and carrots makes you more likely to eat them, which helps promote the consumption of a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet. There’s also a strong link between growing your own food, and the practice of mindful eating.

“We’re likely to savour food, and consider it for what it is, when we’ve grown it ourselves,” says Medcan dietitian Olivia Cupido. “That all promotes healthy eating habits.”

Gardening Makes Us Move

Consider the activity required to garden. You engage your glutes and quadriceps when you lift a bag of topsoil or shovel earth. Your shoulders, biceps and triceps are exerted as you’re raking leaves. And the hoeing and spading required to turn over a garden in the spring amounts to a full-body workout. Such activities can add up over time to have beneficial effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, light gardening qualifies as moderate-intensity exercise, burning about 330 calories per hour, while more intense activity, like chopping wood, qualifies as vigorous intensity exercise, burns up to 440 calories per hour for a 154-pound male. And the benefits of such physical activity adds up over the week: People who engage in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five times a week experience reduced risk of chronic diseases and an improved ability to live independently, longer into life.

“The incidental activity that happens during yard work is a great way to get exercise, particularly if you find it difficult to set aside time for a daily workout,” says trainer Kurt Morrison. “The key here is to work up to things. Some variations on squats and presses, a few weeks before you get out, are a great way to prepare. And if you’re concerned, check with a doctor to determine what activities are appropriate.”

Time in Nature and Thinking Well

We’ve written before about the benefits of getting outside—and gardening is one of the easiest and best ways to spend time in nature. One study revealed that 30 minutes of gardening decreased stress more than 30 minutes of indoor reading. Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacterium in soil, has even been linked to the release of serotonin, which, in turn, improves mood and decreases anxiety. In a Japanese horticulture review, viewing plants altered EEG recordings and reduced stress, fear, anger and sadness, blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension. Plus research indicates that activities in natural settings may boost attention span and restore focus.

“Yard work gets us off our screens, doing something that sees hard effort rewarded,” according to Dr. Jack Muskat, our clinical director of psychology. “You get bonus points for mental wellness if you do it with friends or loved ones, which can help turn it into a social activity as well.”

So as we head into the warmer months, try to avoid regarding that yard work as drudgery. Celebrate that weeding and planting for the health- and wellness-promoting benefits it provides. And if you don’t have room for a garden at your home, or live in a condo, consider planters, window boxes or signing up to tend to a community garden in your area.

Seeking ideas on nutrient-dense foods to grow in your garden, or looking for ways to get your body ready for those afternoons outdoors? Arrange a consultation with our Nutrition or Fitness teams.

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